A THREE-PEAT FOR THE WARRIORS? THE NBA SEASON PREVIEW
October 17th. That’s the day pretty much every basketball fan is waiting for. That is the day when the NBA finally tips off for the 2018-19 season. Following a chaotic off-season – which in some places hasn’t even ended, so to speak – there are many, many pertinent questions. How far will the new-look LA Lakers go? Will Toronto pose a threat in the east with Kawhi Leonard or will they implode after having let DeMar DeRozan go? Who will win the Eastern Conference?
But there’s one question that most NBA fans will be asking right now. Will the Golden State Warriors make it three in a row? Here we take a preview of the East and West conferences and predict who might eventually make the playoffs and finals, along with a few other crystal-ball moments.
The Western Conference
LeBron James is now officially a Los Angeles Laker. This was by far the biggest news this offseason and made the already loaded Western Conference even heavier with talent. They’ve added a lot of experience with the likes of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Javale McGee but there’s a lot lacking within the young group that the Lakers otherwise are. Lonzo Ball seems to have fixed his jumpshot and that should be good news, but this year will mostly be about development for the young Lakers and I think they will be happy to make the playoffs.
By far, the team to beat this year are the Golden State Warriors. They had four all-stars last year and this year they added DeMarcus Cousins. Now, people might say Cousins won’t be the same player he once was because of the achilles injury he suffered (Kobe certainly wasn’t) but he is still an all-star calibre player and in a team like GSW, he certainly won’t need to carry the team like he had to at Sacramento or even be the second best option like at the Pelicans. And even on a bad day, he can put up numbers as good as their former center Javale McGee.
Houston Rockets added Carmelo Anthony after a complex set of trade deals that saw Melo stay in Atlanta for five days. But losing Trevor Ariza and Luc M’bah a Moute is going to hurt them defensively – especially since defence isn’t Melo’s forte. Ariza was especially crucial in the Western Conference finals last year against the Warriors and his presence will be sorely missed.
The West is certainly stacked with a number of playoff teams. The OKC Thunder will once again have a go at getting to the Conference semis, and will be helped especially by Paul George’s stunning choice to stay at OKC instead of going to LA and joining LeBron. Together with Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams this could be a team to watch, with the potential to cause upsets but also to struggle defensively during the initial part of the season whilst Andre Roberson is absent. Utah Jazz will try to continue developing as a unit behind Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Defensively, they were a hard team to break down and that will be the crux of their game this year too.
San Antonio were dealt an early blow in training camp when guard and All-Defensive player Dejounte Murray tore his ACL but with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge in the team, they should achieve a playoff spot (although they may not get very far). Portland Trailblazers should also make a playoff push with their play revolving around the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. But again, like the Spurs they may not get very far in the post-season. The Minnesota Timberwolves need to sort their own house with regards to the Jimmy Butler situation, but they should nonetheless make the playoffs, possessing talent such as Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The Phoenix Suns, with their core of Devin Booker and rookie DeAndre Ayton, also look exciting and may sneak into the playoff picture.
Playoff Prediction (In No Order): Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, Utah, Portland, San Antonio, LA Lakers, Phoenix.
West Champion: Golden State Warriors (again)
The Eastern Conference
With LeBron leaving Cleveland, there are really only two teams worth talking about for a potential Finals appearance, the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. Both have remarkable young talent and all-star calibre players to finally go for the kill. Boston would love to see a fully healthy Gordon Hayward (who missed the entire season last year barring the first 7 minutes of the opening game) team up with Kyrie Irving (who missed the entire playoffs), both of whom would complement the young group including Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and push them over the line into The Finals.
Philadelphia lost to Boston in the playoffs last season in the Eastern Conference semi-finals but that should prove valuable experience for the youngsters in the team – who also happen to be their best players – Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Together, the two of them can really prove to be vital in the run through April, May and hopefully June next year. Simmons belied his age during the regular season but was found a little wanting during the playoffs, especially in the series against the Celtics, but he should be better this year (more so if he has worked on his jumpshot).
Toronto and Washington have shots at making the Eastern Conference finals, and should a result or two go their way, Boston or Philly may be upset in the playoffs. John Wall and Bradley Beal still form a very good backcourt for the Wizards and if Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard get a strong partnership going, Toronto may not have to say goodbye to the later stages of the playoffs just yet. Miami Heat will once again be a hard-nosed defensive team to compete with – led by All-Star Slovenian guard Goran Dragic. Under former Toronto head coach Dwane Casey, the Detroit Pistons will be looking to make the playoffs with their two big men – Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond – and while they will have a good shot at getting to the second round, they will eventually fall to one of the favourites.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks also have enough talent to maybe nick the fifth or the sixth seed in the East, and the Greek Freak (as he is called) will be looking to make an MVP case for himself. The New York Knicks, the Charlotte Hornets and maybe even the Cleveland Cavaliers might all still make the playoffs as the eighth seed if their star players (Kristaps Porzingis, Kemba Walker and Kevin Love respectively) can produce on a nightly basis. Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers made it to the first round of the playoffs last year, losing out to LeBron’s Cleveland in seven games, and they too should make the playoffs. Seedings and home court advantage for the playoffs will play a heavy role in the Eastern Conference in deciding which of the chasing pack goes the furthest, especially with the talent levels being so close between all sides except the Celtics and the Sixers.
The Playoff Teams: Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Detroit, Miami, Indiana, Washington, Milwaukee.
The East Champion: Boston Celtics.
MVP: Anthony Davis (New Orleans). With no Rajon Rondo and no DeMarcus Cousins, the impetus falls on Davis to produce and if he can have a season akin to Russell Westbrook’s triple-double season (the first one), he will be the MVP – especially if Nola makes the playoffs.
Rookie of the year: One of the most hotly debated areas last year, I think Dallas Mavericks rookie, Luka Doncic, will take the honours this year. It’ll be close between him and DeAndre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns but Doncic (who won the European championships with Slovenia alongside Goran Dragic) is an accomplished European star at 19 years of age who has played with grown men, and has showcased talent levels that even eclipse those of people like Dirk Nowitzki and Kristaps Porzingis at that age.
Potential trade of the season: Jimmy Butler to Miami. This trade was nearly on before training camp started (it fell through for various reasons) but should it happen midway through the season, it will instantly degrade Minnesota from a playoff contender to an outside shot for eighth place, while potentially launching Miami into a contender for a place in the Eastern Conference finals and maybe even the NBA Finals.
The NBA Champion: Boston Celtics to beat the Golden State Warriors in seven games. I’m rooting for an upset here, I won’t lie. But if Boston get home court advantage in The Finals – which may well be the case with a stacked West making it hard for the best team there to get a better record than the best team in the East – then it will come down to a Game Seven at the TD Garden in Boston. That could well mean an upset, especially with Brad Stevens, one of the best young coaches in the NBA, coaching the Celtics. He got them to the Eastern Conference Finals when nobody expected them to go past the second round at best, and they could well accomplish even more this season.